It’s funny how things change. Not too long ago, when I saw a car swerving on the road, I’d immediately assume the driver might be intoxicated or possibly falling asleep, and I’d make every effort to avoid that car.
Now, if I see a vehicle veering into multiple lanes or sidling up to the median, I automatically assume the person is texting, checking e-mail, or doing anything else on a smartphone that can distract a driver. And more times than not, that’s been the case. I’ll see the person fixated on a device, looking up at the road just once every few seconds. It’s extremely frightening, particularly on a highway, where total concentration is required to maintain control of a car.
Don’t get me wrong — I love my iPhone, and I’m in awe of how convenient it is for me to do everything from setting appointments to checking baseball scores. But I realize, sometimes, having that much technology in the palm of my hand can be really distracting, and the temptation to find out what text message or email just came in can be too great.
It makes you wonder if that temptation is posing similar issues for clinicians. In recent weeks, a number of blogs and articles have surfaced suggesting that personal use of mobile devices by physicians is interfering with patient care.
According to a survey by Aruba Networks, approximately 85 percent of hospital-based IT professionals say their organization has a “bring your own device” policy allowing staff to use personal mobile devices. For most hospital CIOs, the top concern in having physicians carry their own smartphones is security — which makes perfect sense considering the risks involved. But what’s also very important is the fact that smartphones, for all the good they do, can affect the ability to provide quality patient care.
In a Kaiser Health News article, John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (and a self-proclaimed technophile), went so far as to say that when it comes to the healthcare environment, the distractions caused by mobile technologies can be “a matter of life and death.”
Physicians who carry mobile devices receive alerts for incoming text messages, e-mails, Facebook messages, and Tweets — distractions that can quickly add up. “I think all of us who use mobile devices have what I will call continuous partial attention,” he wrote in the article. “We’re engaged in our work but at the same time we’re checking that e-mail or we’re glancing at that instant message.” And whereas in the past, laptops separated physicians’ personal and professional lives, with the BYOD trend, “you see the blurring of that separation.”
Halamka believes that more education is needed to help guide physicians with the use of mobile devices, and that hospitals need to implement — and frequently update — policies to stay up to speed on clinician’s mobile habits, taking note of what type of apps and software are being used, and how often.
Medical schools like Georgetown and Stanford University are hoping to nip potential problems in the bud by offering courses to help students learn how to tap the potential of smartphones without losing the human connection with patients. According to an AP article, one program at Georgetown is using actors to portray patients who provide feedback on how well or poorly students integrate technology into their workflow.
At Stanford, a set of guidelines have been developed for docs who use mobile devices:
- Face the patient
- Excuse yourself to check the screen
- Put away devices when you’re not using them
- No personal Internet use in front of patients
For younger docs who grew up texting while multitasking, it may be difficult to realize how intrusive patients might find the devices — particularly older patients who have long grown accustomed to interacting face-to-face with physicians without the use of any gadgets.
For this reason, it’s critical that policies are in place to help guide smartphone use in hospitals and avoid the blurring of lines between what’s acceptable device use and what could be perceived as disrupting — or even dangerous. Because in today’s competitive environment, the last thing you want is for patients to see docs swerving all over the place.